Day 2: Lions, Tigers, and Science, Oh My!
Daniel and I don't normally endorse eating cake for breakfast, but we made an exception for a St. Louis specialty: gooey butter cake. Park Avenue Coffee serves about 80 varieties of this rich, flat coffee cake, along with delicious, locally roasted brews. $2.50 a slice; 314-621-4020.
We purchased a box of gooey butter cake mix to take home, then set off to walk every inch of the sizable St. Louis Zoo, located in the green oasis of Forest Park. At the Emerson Children's Zoo, the kids could pet chinchillas, bunnies, and other friendly animals, but the highlight for train-loving Aaron was a ride on the Emerson Zoo Line Railroad. Sitting in back near the conductors earned the boys the privilege of calling "All aboard!" at each of the four stations. $10 for a multiple-attraction Safari Pass; 314-781-0900.
For lunch, we headed to the bustling Delmar Loop, a nearby neighborhood with a bohemian, college town vibe. Jackson was the one who spotted Cheese-ology, a specialty mac-and-cheese restaurant with a menu as appealing as its name. Each of us selected a cheese, a meat, and a vegetable to pair with our mac, and our orders arrived a few minutes later in steaming hot skillets. Kids' meals from $5.50, adult portions from $7; 314-863-6365,
Next, it was back to Forest Park to nerd it up at the St. Louis Science Center. This multilevel, hands-on science museum is a curious kid's paradise. Among the attractions: a giant robotic T. Rex, a flight simulator, a planetarium, an Omnimax theater, rotating special exhibits, and a great gift shop. Free general admission; special exhibits and shows $3 to $35; 314-289-4400.
We ended the day back in the Delmar Loop, at Fitz's American Grill. Fitz's Root Beer is popular locally, and the restaurant's four-scoop floats are a great accompaniment to comfort-food dinners like meat loaf and brisket. Kids can watch the bottling process through a huge window as they wait. Floats and kids' meals from $5, entr?es $8 to $10; 314-726-9555.
Day 3: A Magic House and a Classic St. Louis Treat
Our first stop on our final morning in St. Louis was Lafayette Fire Company No. 1, a bustling, casual restaurant run by local firefighters. There we filled up on authentic firehouse cuisine, including the yummy Brickhouse French Toast. Breakfast $7 to $10; 314-621-5001.
Our next destination, just a short drive from downtown, was the Magic House, a renowned children's museum. Located in a restored and expanded Victorian mansion, it offers engaging hands-on exhibits throughout its many levels and wings. The boys immediately raced to the three-story Jack and the Beanstalk Climber; eventually we made our way to the mystery exhibit to play crime fighters. Although the Magic House would seem to offer more for the 7-and-under set, 12-year-old Jackson got a kick out of the hunt for clues and the hidden passage behind the bookcase. The kid-sized Children's Village captivated Aaron's attention. $9.50; 314-822-8900.
Before leaving St. Louis, we had to try an eatery universally recommended by friends who know the city: Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. This isn't a place you visit for the ambiance, but the friendly service at the retro walk-up windows hints at something worthwhile to come. Presented with a dizzying array of toppings and custard flavors, we each ordered our own unique "concrete" (custard with toppings mixed in) and found the treats to be even richer and creamier than custards we have at home. From $1.80; 314-481-2652.
After more than a decade of family adventures, Daniel and I measure a trip's success by the number of times we hear "Can we go again?" During the half-day drive home, the tally for St. Louis reached an all-time high, ensuring that we'll be headed there again very soon.
Where to stay
Drury Plaza Hotel at the Arch is in the heart of downtown, near the city's signature landmark. Doubles from $145; suites from $170; 314-231-3003.
Get a family-friendly suite (breakfast and WiFi included) and hit the pool at Hampton Inn & Suites St. Louis at Forest Park, located near the St. Louis Zoo. Suites from $149; 314-655-3993.
The Moonrise Hotel takes its lunar theme seriously, with space memorabilia throughout the premises. Doubles from $169; 314-721-1111.
To learn more
Go to Explore St. Louis (explorestlouis.com), the official website of the convention and visitors' bureau, and stlouisarch.com, which has information about the city's downtown attractions.
Toni McLellan (makearoo.com) is a writer who also hosts retreats for creative people.
Originally published in the September 2012 issue of FamilyFun